Last week I wrote about what I thought was the secret to Rwanda’s progress. I went on about eyes and minds set on the future, an integrationist, Afro-centric and globalist world view and a few more.
That was before I heard the assessment of a non-Rwandan, non-African who lives in another country far away from here, and realised how much I had not said.
It perhaps goes to prove the wisdom of the Kinyarwanda saying about failure to recognise the treasure one has because it is all too often familiar (Uwambaye ikirezi ntamenya ko kera).
Sometimes we need others to tell us what treasure we have and last week that person was Mr Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, a global Chinese company dealing in e-commerce, retail and internet, as well as all the new things about digital technology.
He was here to launch the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) for Africa.
The way he enthused about Rwanda and President Paul Kagame was more than most Rwandans would do. Yet it was not flattery but a genuine, whole-hearted appreciation of the direction the country is taking.
He had met the president only four times before and been here even fewer times, but on every occasion he had been left in awe of the man and the country. In his assessment, here was a remarkable leader and country going places.
But what was it that struck Jack Ma and gave him the confidence to set up the eWTP for Africa in Rwanda only one year after his last visit?
First, Rwanda’s approach to doing business and Alibaba’s mission are finely aligned: to make it easy to do business.
Second, both are intent on building the infrastructure of the future in technology, commerce and in other sectors.
Third is what Mr Jack Ma actually said at the launch of eWTP in Kigali on October 31. Explaining the choice of Rwanda for this kind of investment, he gave a number of reasons.
One of them was that Rwanda embraces change. This country is among the first developing countries to adopt and champion new digital technology. It is a place that values innovation and is ready to use it to transform lives.
In this sense it is a logical location for a digital platform designed to change and improve the way trade is conducted globally.
Another is that Rwanda makes things happen. It is not one of those countries where new ideas are readily welcomed but as quickly forgotten, or memoranda are signed but soon shelved and gather dust. Here what is agreed is implemented.
Government efficiency and transparency in the way it conducts business was another obvious attraction. Of course, we already know this from reports of the World Bank and other reputable international organisations.
But this, coming from an entrepreneur, is an even stronger endorsement, considering how businesses have little trust in governments.
In his considered evaluation Rwanda is changing the way the rest of the world views Africa. That change derives from Rwanda’s leaders’ businesslike approach to issues, placing national and continental interests at the fore, and the drive to reform the African Union, make it stronger and more efficient.
A recent addition to this is the push to turn Africa into a single trading bloc. All this is transforming the continent and changing opinion about it.
Finally, Mr Jack Ma’s attraction to Rwanda is the country’s leadership that is clearly transforming the country. He says President Kagame believes in the future., and that means innovation, change and progress. It means things get done.
Apart from President Kagame, and perhaps the people at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), whose business it is anyway, I have not heard a more passionate pitch for Rwanda as an investment destination than I did from Jack Ma. I have not heard a more ardent belief in the transformative power of digital technology, or a more powerful plea for trade and a place for small businesses in world commerce.
There cannot be more credible testimony of Rwanda’s recipe for progress than this coming from a person from outside the continent; not one of those involved in the development business whose assessments are sometimes suspect, but a hard-nosed business man.
Rwanda must be doing a lot of things right and we had better take advantage of it.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.